What Is Biological Systems Engineering?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Biological systems engineering combines biology and chemistry to develop solutions to environmental issues. This includes the need to balance the production of food and other components with ecological concerns, as well as environmental protection and the creation of new approaches to topics like water quality and soil health. Research in this field has its roots in topics like agricultural science, but places a heavy emphasis on environmental responsibility, not just increasing bottom line production. Colleges and universities may offer this major if they have programs like environmental engineering, biology, and agricultural sciences.

People who work in biological systems engineering might help protect wetland areas.
People who work in biological systems engineering might help protect wetland areas.

Some of the research performed in biological systems engineering has medical applications, but it is distinct from bioengineering, which focuses on the development of new treatments and diagnostic tools. Instead of researching ways to improve human health, members of this field are concerned with environmental health. One important area of biological systems engineering is food production, from field to table. Researchers work on topics like crop rotations, food safety, and developing more efficient and environmentally friendly farming methods.

Another area of interest can be environmental protection for watersheds, wetlands, and other fragile areas. In biological systems engineering, people may work on methods to clean up and preserve natural resources. They consider human needs, like the desire to supply water to a population, and balance them against environmental concerns. Water and air quality are both pursued by biological systems engineers, as are subjects like allocating natural resources effectively, efficiently, and appropriately.

Some economic analysis can be involved in biological systems engineering. Researchers often find themselves balancing concerns about environmental and social efficiency to find the best solutions to problems like meeting the demand for food in a community. Responsibility may be a concern, but so can the expense of implementing solutions, which could become cost-prohibitive. If a new farming technique protects natural resources but is so expensive that the price of food doubles, for instance, it may not be practical to implement even though it might be an excellent solution to environmental concerns.

Field work can be an important part of biological systems engineering. This includes visits to working farms and natural areas. In addition, clinical study on experimental farms and in labs may also be necessary for some research. Educators may split time between classroom training for their students and research. A mixture of work environments may be part of the job, ranging from sewage treatment plants to conference halls.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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